The NFL's Diversity Problem

"I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him," said Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay of accused thought criminal Rush Limbaugh. "As a nation, and as a world, we've got to watch our words and our thoughts."

"Divisive comments are not what the the NFL is all about," agreed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "I would not want to see those kind of comments from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL."

Before these execs start doing their end zone dance about Limbaugh's exclusion from the NFL ownership club, they might want to address a major diversity scandal brewing in their own house.

I refer here not to the exclusion of women from the NFL, although I could.  After all, fire departments have adjusted their testing standards to allow for the hiring of women despite the fact that fighting fires -- particularly the pulling of hose kneeling down and the rescue of incapacitated people -- puts as much a premium on upper body strength as does playing football.  Besides, no one has yet to die from an errant pass or a missed block.

The difference, of course, is that fire departments can adjust their assignments to keep women out of harm's way or at least out of the public spotlight.  Football teams have no such cover.  Everyone is visible.

What is difficult to justify, however, is the veritable exclusion of Asian-American and, even more incredibly, Mexican-American men from the NFL.

An analysis of Irsay's AFC South division reveals a shocking lack of genuine diversity, a shortfall that is representative of the NFL in general.  Of the 208 players in the division, there are no Japanese or Chinese-Americans and only two players of any kind of Hispanic descent. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics make up 15.4 cent of the American population, but less than 1 percent of the AFC South and of the NFL in general.  Asian Americans make up 4.5 percent of the American population and zero percent of the NFL unless one includes Scott Fujita, a Caucasian adopted by a Japanese family.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida gives the NFL an A- for racial hiring practices and a C on gender hiring practices, but these grades are largely for front office jobs. This would be like giving Goldman Sachs an A- for hiring minority janitors. The real money, in either case, is on the field.

Although African American men make up a commendable 69 percent of the players in AFC South and 66 percent league wide, there are problems here too.  Black players -- Pacific Islanders as well -- tend to be ghettoized in blue-collar clusters.  In the AFC South, for instance, blacks make up more than 80 percent of all linebackers and defensive backs.  They make up more than 90 percent of the running backs. 

As it happens, only the white-dominated, "white collar" positions of kicker and quarterback have rules specifically designed to protect them from rough play.  Interestingly, all six of the kickers and quarterbacks on Irsay's Colts are white.  This is not to say that Irsay is a racist, but rather that he is insensitive to matters of race.

The quarterback position presents a variety of troubling issues.  As of this writing, the ten quarterbacks with the highest official ratings are all white. This can only indicate a racial bias in the design of the rating system.  Ideally, these ratings should be based on job related criteria and be predictive of success.  The fact that the top four rated quarterbacks -- and five of the top ten -- play for undefeated teams means little. This surely an historical fluke. 

What we know from the media and academia is that there are no genetic differences among races.  Knowing this, we can infer that the testing the NFL does to choose its players and assign them to positions is flawed.  Intentionally or not, this selection process has had a disparate impact on certain underrepresented groups, Hispanic Americans most dramatically.  The token hiring of Mark Sanchez by the New York Jets does not begin to address this injustice.

If our fire departments can "look like America," why not the NFL?  Where is La Raza when we need them?
"I, myself, couldn't even consider voting for him," said Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay of accused thought criminal Rush Limbaugh. "As a nation, and as a world, we've got to watch our words and our thoughts."

"Divisive comments are not what the the NFL is all about," agreed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "I would not want to see those kind of comments from people who are in a responsible position in the NFL."

Before these execs start doing their end zone dance about Limbaugh's exclusion from the NFL ownership club, they might want to address a major diversity scandal brewing in their own house.

I refer here not to the exclusion of women from the NFL, although I could.  After all, fire departments have adjusted their testing standards to allow for the hiring of women despite the fact that fighting fires -- particularly the pulling of hose kneeling down and the rescue of incapacitated people -- puts as much a premium on upper body strength as does playing football.  Besides, no one has yet to die from an errant pass or a missed block.

The difference, of course, is that fire departments can adjust their assignments to keep women out of harm's way or at least out of the public spotlight.  Football teams have no such cover.  Everyone is visible.

What is difficult to justify, however, is the veritable exclusion of Asian-American and, even more incredibly, Mexican-American men from the NFL.

An analysis of Irsay's AFC South division reveals a shocking lack of genuine diversity, a shortfall that is representative of the NFL in general.  Of the 208 players in the division, there are no Japanese or Chinese-Americans and only two players of any kind of Hispanic descent. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics make up 15.4 cent of the American population, but less than 1 percent of the AFC South and of the NFL in general.  Asian Americans make up 4.5 percent of the American population and zero percent of the NFL unless one includes Scott Fujita, a Caucasian adopted by a Japanese family.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida gives the NFL an A- for racial hiring practices and a C on gender hiring practices, but these grades are largely for front office jobs. This would be like giving Goldman Sachs an A- for hiring minority janitors. The real money, in either case, is on the field.

Although African American men make up a commendable 69 percent of the players in AFC South and 66 percent league wide, there are problems here too.  Black players -- Pacific Islanders as well -- tend to be ghettoized in blue-collar clusters.  In the AFC South, for instance, blacks make up more than 80 percent of all linebackers and defensive backs.  They make up more than 90 percent of the running backs. 

As it happens, only the white-dominated, "white collar" positions of kicker and quarterback have rules specifically designed to protect them from rough play.  Interestingly, all six of the kickers and quarterbacks on Irsay's Colts are white.  This is not to say that Irsay is a racist, but rather that he is insensitive to matters of race.

The quarterback position presents a variety of troubling issues.  As of this writing, the ten quarterbacks with the highest official ratings are all white. This can only indicate a racial bias in the design of the rating system.  Ideally, these ratings should be based on job related criteria and be predictive of success.  The fact that the top four rated quarterbacks -- and five of the top ten -- play for undefeated teams means little. This surely an historical fluke. 

What we know from the media and academia is that there are no genetic differences among races.  Knowing this, we can infer that the testing the NFL does to choose its players and assign them to positions is flawed.  Intentionally or not, this selection process has had a disparate impact on certain underrepresented groups, Hispanic Americans most dramatically.  The token hiring of Mark Sanchez by the New York Jets does not begin to address this injustice.

If our fire departments can "look like America," why not the NFL?  Where is La Raza when we need them?